More than any other performer, Andy Kaufman was able to create an air of mystery around himself that never dissipated even after his death. Most, if not all, Andy Kaufman stories feel totally unbelievable until they get so crazy that you feel like they might be completely real. Weird Andy Kaufman performances were the norm in his unfortunately short career, so it’s not hard to make the mental jump to believing that he pretended to kill himself on stage after opening for The Temptations, even though there’s no visual proof of that ever happening. If you’ve only heard about the genius that is Andy Kaufman, or you’re afraid to ask “who is Andy Kaufman?” then keep reading and discover the weirdest stories that he was ever involved in. Like the man who would go on to portray him in film, Jim Carrey, Andy Kaufman stories are anything but what you'd expect.
Some of the most bizarre Andy Kaufman stunts weren’t even performed for an audience; his weirdest acts were done in crowds of people with no cameras, and they were never repeated. Maybe. It turns out that Andy Kaufman lied quite a bit in his interviews, and that Andy Kaufman art performances may have been completely staged, with no improvising whatsoever. Are these stories real? Or are they just made up to mythologize an okay performer? You be the judge.
While opening for Rodney Dangerfield under the guise of Tony Clifton, Kaufman went out of his way to infuriate the audience. But it's not like he was winging it as he went along; the man had a plan. On his third night, he showed up 25 minutes late and said that he wouldn't perform until all of the cigarettes were extinguished.
When he finally got on stage, he lit a cigar and blew smoke into the audience and began singing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" as people began to throw tomatoes and eggs at him. When someone threw a banana at him, he shouted, "Drop the net!,” and a protective barrier came down to block him from the audience. When someone threw a coin at him, he donned a SWAT helmet and yelled at everyone from the wings.
Before Andy Kaufman was established as the Loki of the comedy world, he was just working out his act in New York City. While he was still working out his "foreign guy" character that would later be fully exploited on Taxi, he was booked as a guest on The Dating Game, and he was 100% amazing.
The two hot '70s bros that he was playing against were really into hooking up with a woman on TV, and Kaufman went out of his way to make the audience stew in the awkward soup he made. After the swingin' '70s babe picked dude #2, Kaufman burst into tears and protested that he correctly answered all the questions.
In the late '70s, Kaufman was a regular guest on Saturday Night Live while it was still on the cutting edge of comedy, but even for the show's cool downtown audience, he was a bit too much. One night, rather than performing his "foreign man" character that had become a hit, he came out onstage, spoke with an English accent, and read from The Great Gatsby.
When the audience began to boo, he asked if they'd like to hear some music instead, when they answered with an emphatic yes, he put a record on, and it was just his voice reading the words he had just read.
Andy's brother Michael, who has tried to keep some mystique around Andy's life since his death, told a story in a Vice interview about how sweet Kaufman could be - even when he was being super weird. Michael said:
"Andy went to visit a girl who was dying. She was a fan of his, and when his plane was delayed in Chicago on its way to Washington, he drove out to Demotte, Indiana, to visit her. Word got out at the hospital and Andy wrestled three people. I have pictures. They were supposedly nurses and maybe one patient's mother. It's the only time he ever lost a match. He let them beat him. And then there's a letter from the mother, thanking Andy for doing that. Seven weeks after his visit, she died. That whole correspondence will be there. Andy never told anyone about that. I only knew about it because I went through the stuff."